‘Why are you black?’ – Eton headmaster apologizes to its first black student Onyeama for racism

Ama Nunoo Jun 23, 2020 at 11:00am

June 23, 2020 at 11:00 am | News

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

June 23, 2020 at 11:00 am | News

Nigerian writer Dillibe Onyeama was the first ever black student at Eton College, Photo: BBC

The first ever black student at the prestigious Eton College, Dillibe Onyeama, has received an apology from the current headmaster of the college after 50 years of being banned from the school premises.

The writer of Nigerian descent was banned shortly after he published a book detailing the racism he encountered while studying at Eton in the 1960s.

The headmaster, Simon Henderson, told the BBC that Onyeama is now welcome to visit the prestigious British public school at any time. This apology was sparked by the recent worldwide Black Lives Matter protests that were sparked by the death of George Floyd.  

These protests have also ignited ongoing discussions among the British people on institutional racism in British society.

Henderson, who has been the head of the college since 2015, said he is “appalled” by the racism Onyeama experienced at the school. “Racism has no place in civilised society, then or now.”

He said “significant strides” have been made since Mr Onyeama was at Eton but, as millions of people around the world rightly raise their voices in protest against racial discrimination and inequality, “we have to have the institutional and personal humility to acknowledge that we still have more to do.”

“We must all speak out and commit to doing better, permanently, and I am determined that we seize this moment as a catalyst for real and sustained change for the better.”

Onyeama wrote in his memoir when he was 21 that he was slapped with a ban from his alma mater two years later in 1972. He said he was asked derogatory questions like, “Why are you black?”, “How many maggots are there in your hair?” and “Does your mother wear a bone in her nose?”

Even when he excelled in class his efforts were doubted, he was suspected of cheating but whenever he flunked, he was given full credit for the bad grades.

Nonetheless, the Nigerian writer said he does not want an apology because regardless of the racial taunts he had to endure at Eton, he had fond memories as well and his view of the school is rather fairly positive.

He said the apology “compels the recognition that prejudice on the grounds of color or race dehumanizes its victims in a way that ordinary forms of prejudice do not”.

Eton College has a huge worldwide reputation for its high academic standards and it currently charges over $50,000 (£40,000) in fees for a year. It is notable for educating some of Britain’s highest-ranking officials including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and both the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex.

Other leading British companies and institutions such as pub chain Greene King and insurance market Lloyd’s of London have also rendered apologies for their historical links to the slave trade.

These apologies may not erase the impact of slavery or make people less racist towards people of color, but it is a start to the “significant strides” being made to end racial discrimination and inequality.

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